Winter Ball Update – November 18

Cardinals Assistant General Manager John Mozeliak offers commentary on a number of Cardinals playing in winter ball, including a couple of surprises.

Puerto Rico

 

Yadier Molina, Carolina Giants

When the Cardinals said earlier that Molina would likely be taking the winter off, it was apparently wishful thinking as their starting catcher reported to his previous club again this off-season.

 

"I think Yadi is going to play a little bit this time. Their loyalty to their teams is just ... He is on the active list right now and only has 12 at-bats. In fact, after this, I am going to talk with his agent. I just want to make sure we are not overdoing it. As long as he is healthy, he can just maintain his shape," said Assistant General Manager John Mozeliak.

 

Domincan Republic

 

Hector Luna, Las Aguilas Cibenas

Luna has appeared in six games, hitting .333 (8-for-24) including a double and a stolen base and has driven in four runs.

 

"Hector Luna is playing and that is good. A lot of times he is down there and doesn't always get at-bats because of some of the Major League players that come and take spots… I am glad he is taking advantage of it. Last year, he didn't; he got very few at-bats prior to when the big boys came into town… I am glad to see him playing and I think he will benefit from it," Mozeliak noted.

 

Julian Tavarez (free agent), Las Aguilas Cibenas

The right-handed reliever joined the team this past Wednesday the 16th. Going four innings in his initial outing, Tavarez allowed two runs. He fanned four.

 

Carmen Cali, Licey Tigres

The reliever is unscored upon in 11 innings over nine games. Opponents are hitting just .184 against him. The lefty has fanned nine, while walking only one. The Dodgers' Yhency Brazoban is Licey's closer.

 

"He's doing well, which I am happy to see," Mo explained.

 

Ramon Nivar, Escogido Leones

The recent free-agent signee is hitting .250 (16-for-64), with a pair of doubles and a triple. Nivar has stolen two bases and with five walks, sports an on-base percentage of .351.

 

"Obviously, we didn't have any control over that, in terms of him playing, but someone like him can only benefit from winter ball," said Mozeliak. When I asked what position we should expect to see Nivar playing next spring, the answer made it clear there is no firm decision yet. "I think right now, in the back of our minds, we're thinking second base, just because of the outfield we have. But, I've heard really good things about him as an outfielder.

 

"The whole thought process was "Let's just sign him, then bring him into camp and see what makes sense."

 

Carlos De La Cruz, Azucareros del Este

The 21-year-old outfielder who joined the organization from the Boston Red Sox in the Mike Myers trade last spring played with New Jersey this past season. De La Cruz has just a single at bat for the Azucareros to date.

 

Despite De La Cruz' youth and limited action, Mozeliak remained optimistic. "Anybody that can be playing at this point, it is to their benefit. It is no different than when we try to get players exposure in the (Arizona) Fall League. There are times that players should be shut down due to the amount they play during the spring and summer, but in De La Cruz' case, it made sense for him to be playing."

 

I asked Mo if any more players would be added to the Winter League contingent in the near future. "Maybe next week. We are close to one or two players on the six-year front – those who are already playing."

 

Mexico

 

Chris Duncan, Mazatlan Deer

Duncan is showing impressive clutch hitting, with a .348 average and ten RBI in 26 at-bats with runners in scoring position. Overall, he is hitting .259. In 91 at-bats against right-handers, the lefty hitter has seven doubles, two home runs and 11 RBI. Against lefties, he is hitting only .238 with a double and three RBI. Overall, Duncan has earned 20 walks, but has fanned 31 times in 112 total at-bats.

 

In even better news, the first baseman turned corner outfielder has not been charged with a fielding error in his first 32 games.

 

Tyler Johnson, not Mazatlan Deer

In an earlier conversation, Mozeliak told me that he hoped Tyler Johnson would agree to join the Deer for the second half of the Mexican League season. However, the left-hander declined the opportunity, apparently much to the chagrin of the organization.

 

"He elected not to go… It did not go over as well as I had hoped," the assistant GM said.

 

Mozeliak wanted to find a pitcher to go to Mexico instead of Johnson. "I tried but I could not find a match. The guy who probably would have made the most sense was Cali, except for the fact he was already committed."

 

Mark Worrell, Mazatlan Deer
After Mozeliak and I spoke, the potential "closer of the future", right handed reliever Mark Worrell, joined the Deer. In early action, Worrell has allowed just one hit in two innings of work.

Venezuela

 

Victor Moreno, Aragua Tigres

The recent signee has a 6-2 record and a 4.00 ERA in 18 innings pitched. Moreno has fanned 17, but also walked nine.

 

Mo's assessment was short and sweet. "A good arm."

 

Jackson Paz, Aragua Tigres

The left-hander has allowed a hit and a walk in 1-1/3 scoreless innings in two appearances. The 23-year-old joined the Cardinals organization via the Double-A Rule 5 draft two years ago.

 

Juan Lucena, Aragua Tigres

The 21-year-old shortstop who won the Appalachian League batting title in 2004 has just one at-bat so far. Mozeliak understated that when he offered this: "He's not getting much playing time this year."

 

Milko Jaramillo, Aragua Tigres

Jaramillo, who recently re-signed a minor league deal with the Cardinals, is hitting 4-for-24 (.167) with one double in 13 games.

 

Papo Bolivar (free agent), Aragua Tigres

The 27-year-old outfielder is batting .313 (15-for-48) including a pair of doubles and seven RBI. Mozeliak confirmed Papo's 2006 return is low odds. "Doubtful. But I never say ‘No', though."

 

Rayner Laya, La Guaira Tiburones

The shortstop picked up in the Triple-A Rule 5 draft in 2003 is batting .250 (2-for-8) with a double.

 

Skip Schumaker

The outfielder underwent knee surgery last month and whether or not he plays this winter remains up in the air. "It's all depending on his knee, so it is a pure medical issue… I don't think it is as much clearance from the doctors as much as it is ‘How are you feeling? And are you willing to test it in a live game setting instead of in just sitting or working out at home?'" Mozeliak explained.

 

Either way, Mo has no doubt that Schumaker will be ready to go in spring training come March.

 

Arizona Fall League/Team USA leftovers

 

Chris Lambert, Team USA

After pitching in the Arizona Fall League with mixed results, Lambert, the Cards' first rounder in 2004, joined the Olympic qualifying team and pitched a gem in the first game of the tournament. I admitted I was a bit surprised as Lambert seemed tired when I saw him a couple of weeks ago.

 

"Yes, I think he was. But, when I talked to him about this opportunity, he saw it as ‘Look, I only have to go one game' and it is a great chance to be a part of something neat… I almost think he was kind of trying to get through the Fall League just so he could get to this game," Mo explained.

 

Travis Hanson, Team USA

While Mozeliak confirmed that the third baseman's stock is high within the organization, it really didn't have to rise very far. "People who have been around him very long and have known him - I think we've all had some appreciation for him. He is a hard worker. You'll never see anyone outwork him."

 

I asked Mo if the organization sees Hanson's future back at second base. "I think at some point in time, we're going to have to review that strategy and decide what is best for him. He didn't have a great year defensively, obviously, but he was coming off a very severe broken leg.

 

"The problem was that he broke it at second and he was kind of fearful about going back there. But, maybe now that some time has gone by, he may be ready to look at that. That is a decision that we will make and he will be a part of… He's athletic enough that he can play multiple places," Mozeliak observed.

 

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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